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Laughs, Activism Blending at Stewart-Colbert Rally

by Hope Yen

WASHINGTON - In the shadow of the Capitol and close to the election, comedians Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert entertained a huge throng rallying on Saturday for "sanity," poking fun at the nation's diversity and its ill-tempered politics.

Don Combs, left, and his wife Lisa Combs, of Long Island, New York, holds signs at the Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear in Washington, in Saturday, Oct. 30, 2010. The "sanity" rally blending laughs and political activism drew thousands to the National Mall Saturday, with comedians Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert casting themselves as the unlikely maestros of moderation and civility in polarized times. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin) In one shtick, Stewart and his associates queried some crowd-goers to identify themselves by category, eliciting answers from attendees such as "half-Mexican, half-white,""American woman single" and "Asian-American from Taiwan."

"It's a perfect demographic sampling of the American people," Stewart cracked. "As you know, if you have too many white people at a rally, your cause is racist. If you have too many people of color, then you must be asking for something - special rights, like eating at restaurants or piggy back rides."

The event sought in part to be a counterpoint to the "Restoring Honor" rally in August by Glenn Beck, the Fox News commentator popular among conservatives and tea party supporters. Beck's rally, which had strong religious overtones, drew some protests from civil rights supporters.

Don Novello, who years ago played Father Guido Sarducci on "Saturday Night Live," provided the benediction. He polled the crowd on their religious leanings, then gave thanks to God for allowing everyone to assign their various causes to him.

Egged on by the hosts, Ozzy Osbourne and Yusuf Islam, formerly known as Cat Stevens, engaged in something of a battle of the bands, the heavy-metal rocker and the folkie interrupting each other.

The crowds - easily tens of thousands strong - were festive, goofy, disillusioned with the state of politics if not the nation, and ready to play nice at a gathering called as a counterweight to all the shouting and flying insults of these polarized times. But there were political undertones, too, pushing back against conservatives ahead of Tuesday's election.

Slogans urged people to "relax." But also: "Righties, don't stomp on my head," a reference to a Republican rally in Kentucky at which a liberal activist was pulled to the ground and stepped on. And, "I wouldn't care if the president was Muslim."

Shannon Escobar, 31, of Bangor, Pa., came with a group of 400 people on buses chartered in New York. A supporter of President Barack Obama in 2008, she said she's tired of nasty rhetoric from both sides and disenchanted with lack of progress in Washington.

"I want to see real change - not Obama change," she said. "We need a clean slate and start over with people really working together."

A regular viewer of Stewart's "The Daily Show," she said she had a dream that he ran for political office, but got "corrupt and dirty."

"I need him to stay pure," she said, deadpan.

People also carried signs in favor of United Farmworkers and the movement to give the District of Columbia a vote in Congress. Many were college students, but the crowd cut across all age groups. "Seniors for pot" cried a half-dozen older people.

Organizers insisted the Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear wasn't about politics. Still, supporters and left-leaning advocacy groups hoped it would rekindle some of the voter enthusiasm for Democrats seen in 2008, particularly among young adults.

Stewart is popular especially with Democrats and independents, a Pew Research Center poll found. Colbert of "The Colbert Report" poses as an ultraconservative, and the stage Saturday was stacked with entertainers associated with Democratic causes or Obama's 2008 campaign.

Even so, Stewart said the day was about toning down anger and partisan division. "Shouting is annoying, counterproductive and terrible for your throat," he said on his website.

Comedy Central's park permit put the crowd estimate at 60,000.

Online: www.rallytorestoresanityandorfear.com

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